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Collaboration a must to revive arts scene ‘Beauty and power of woman inspiring’

Kuwait arts scene is seen by many artists and art connoisseurs having the second most lively gallery in the Gulf, second to Dubai but many believe that there is a lot of work to be done to boost the growth of arts in the country. The Kuwait government through the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL) along with the concerted efforts of other privately-owned art museums has been doing a lot of initiatives to revive the arts scene in Kuwait and regain its glory in the field of arts in the Gulf but some observers point out, more efforts have to be done.

Kuwait teems with talented artists who are just waiting for their right exposure and support from the government and private sector. The advent of the social media has also greatly influenced the arts scene in Kuwait as some artists turn to it to propel their artistry to greater heights. Yasmeen Abdullah Al-Nafeesi, a Senior Executive Officer at the National Offset Company (NOC) Kuwait Foreign Obligations Department and Founder and Manager Director of Art Lounge, in this interview, provides an overview of the current arts scene in Kuwait, the challenges that any budding artist has to face, the role of the social media in influencing the growth of arts and the future of arts in Kuwait.

Question: When did your interest in art start?
Answer: My love for art started when I was four years old. I used to imitate what my father and my mother were doing. They’re both artists. My dad is one of the pioneers in abstract art in Kuwait. So I started dabbling in abstract art till I developed my own style.

Q: How did your art evolve?
A: You know as you grow, you learn to develop your own personality, your own identity and style. When you’re young, you learnt the basics, so I learn the basics from my parents and that’s the most important thing.

Q: How would you describe your art?
A: Originally, when I was in school, I had this habit of drawing cartoons when I was young. I love drawing cartoons and all the cartoon characters. I would just scribble them everywhere and I started making some cartoons for my friends. I drew their favourite cartoon figures and everybody loved it. From cartoons, it evolved as I got older and it geared to pop art. I still love cartoons till now but whenever something comes into my head, I do it pop art form.

Q: What is pop art?
A: Pop art is defined as a form of art that depicts objects or scenes from everyday life and employs techniques of commercial art and popular illustration. Pop art is a modern art movement that started in the 1950s, which uses the imagery, styles, and themes of advertising, mass media, and popular culture.

Q: When you were growing up, were you conscious that your art was evolving from abstract to pop art?
A: As I’ve mentioned earlier, being an artist, you just have to find your own style and in my case, it just developed through the years and later I realized that my art falls into pop art when I got older.

Q: What’s the medium that you use? What are your subjects?
A: I use acrylic. My dad uses acrylic, sometimes oil and water. But my mom uses oil. Most of my inspirations come from the beauty of a woman, the power of a woman. There’s something that I see in the beauty of a woman. With pop-art, there’s always the bright colours. Pop-art is really fun!

Q: You said that you’re inspired by the beauty and power of a woman, are you a feminist? Do you propagate feminism in your art?
A: I’m not a feminist. I’m not an extremist. I’m an equal person. I don’t lean to the extreme. It’s just that I find the woman as a very interesting and colourful subject.

Q: Pop art is your chosen genre, do you still get to do abstract?
A: Yes, I still do. I love abstract. Why I love it? People need to be educated about it. People here do not really understand it as much. A lot of people when they see an abstract art, what is this? What is unique with abstract is that no two minds can see it the same way. When you see a normal or typical painting, you can say this is a vase, fruit, camel and everybody will see it the same way. But with abstract, every single mind, the way you think, the way you see things, the way you do your life, is how you see abstract art. When I ask what do you see? No two people will say the same thing. This is the fun part and creative thing about it.

Q: When you do abstract, what inspires you?
A: Colour! Sometimes mixing colour is not an easy task. If you see the paintings, you will see, artists usually have one palette with certain kinds of colours and all their paintings would be the same. With abstract, there are no two paintings that have the same colours. This is what makes it unique and different from everybody else. Because it’s the colour that impresses you and would make you look deeper and deeper into the painting.

Q: Aside from colour, what else inspires you?
A: Aside from colour, usually, it’s more on how you’re feeling, the emotions. If you’re feeling anger, you can go for red or dark colours. When you’re feeling happy, I love yellow, the white and the gray and all these mixture together and you get the feeling that you’re lifted. For me, personally, I’m attracted to bright colours. If you can see my paintings, all of them are super bright. When I was doing cartoons, all of them were bright.

Q: Why do you say that Kuwait needs to be educated on abstract painting?
A: This is coming from my experience, a lot of people, the young and old, when they see abstract, they don’t understand it, they would ask, what is this? Can you please explain? They were taught when they were young that when you see a picture, you have to understand what it means. They are impressed whenever I teach them, I educate them and I tell them on this is how you view it. This is how it’s done. A lot of people don’t understand it. So when they understand, they appreciate it more. Art needs to be more appreciated. In our culture, they’re normally taught, when you see a camel, this is a camel. I see and I understand this is a camel because this is what they’ve been seeing in their whole life. Abstract is brand new to them. What is abstract? I think it’s important for them to be educated and appreciate this.

Q: How long have you been in the local arts scene?
A: I initially started in June 2008 when I put up the Art Lounge in Tilal Gallery.

Q: You have finished a business degree, how come you’re into the art business?
A: I’m seriously passionate about it. I have my normal daily job. I have my professional life but I want to do something that I love and this is something that I enjoy. I’m employed full time. In my company, we do huge development projects for the State of Kuwait. I evaluate projects, approve, reject, modify, I deal with foreign investors. We’re under the Ministry of Finance and KIA. It’s completely a different field, to satisfy that business side of my life but to satisfy my other personal artistic side, I have to delve into art.

Q: What were the challenges that you had to face when you established a gallery?
A: To be honest with you, I approached several galleries in Kuwait but unfortunately, I didn’t get good feedback. Who are you? We don’t know you! We will get people from outside and we will support that. Unfortunately, they support art coming from outside Kuwait. Very sad, here in Kuwait, they need to focus on Kuwaiti artists. They have talents but they don’t have the proper place to go and appreciate art, the right crowd. They make things harder and harder instead of making things feasible so it pushed me to do my own thing. It got me to a point that I don’t need this. I will do my own thing, take care of this from A to Z and it turned out to be positive and that made me put up my own art gallery

Q: How many paintings do you have now?
A: I have over 400 paintings, a collection over the past 40 years. My Mom’s, Dad’s and mine. I do support other Kuwaiti artists, right now it’s in the process.

Q: How do you maintain the huge collection of paintings all these years?
A: I work really hard, sleepless night. I’m a perfectionist and a very detailed person. I treat them like my babies literally. Even when one is sold, I have sentimental connection with it. They have bubble wrap three times, they are numbered. They are all stored. I know exactly where to find and get them. Everything is recorded.

Q: Weren’t the paintings damaged during Iraqi invasion?
A: Alhamdullilah no! They were kept in a very proper place. Even though during the invasion, our house was robbed twice, but those were hidden so they’re safe.

Q: Since 2008 from the time you put up your gallery, what has been the progress?
A: In 2008, when the abstract was out, the very first comment that I got from everyone was I can’t believe that this art is in Kuwait. The art was new to everyone. Everybody was saying wow! I feel like I’m in Europe, I feel like I’m in the States. It’s not the art that you normally see. Since then, it has started to pick up.

Q: Why did you shift your gallery in Tilal complex to an online art gallery?
A: First, I started literally a gallery and then I shifted online because in 2008, the economy went down. The last thing that people want to spend on is art. People were holding on to their money at that time. I established in 2008 and went online 2009. Now I have my office at the Creative Designs Centre

Q: How does an online art gallery operate?
A: If you go to my website, first of all, I have an application, mobile application and a desktop version. You can browse and place an order in less than a minute. You just have to flip through and press order. It’s cash on delivery. This is to simplify the process. Nobody sells art like this in Kuwait.

Q: Do you prefer the real life gallery or online gallery?
A: I personally think that art should be seen live because a lot of the paintings, the colours are completely different in real life especially with the framing. Art is much nicer to see live. But sometimes, you do need to flip through and you need time to go through a collection. When you’re designing a house, you don’t have the luxury of time to visit galleries. I deal with a lot of interior designers, for them it is so much easier than going to galleries. So they tell me they want this, they want that.

Q: How’s the art scene here in Kuwait?
A: Recently, it’s been picking up well. There is more modern art being introduced. People are getting into it more and more, but I feel or I hope there should be more support from the government, from the private sector to have this more booming, like Art Dubai. My dream is to have Art Kuwait, in that biggest sense in Kuwait. Here, we have a lot of great talents but they need to be marketed on a very high level.

Q: What are your suggestions?
A: I just think that we should have a huge spot where it has everything to do with art and educating people of all ages from art design, pottery and anything that has to do with creativity — art. There should be something available especially for Kuwaitis. You can start with the youngest generation and support the oldest generation. There is a lot of talent in Kuwait.

Q: Are you saying that an art training institute should be established especially for Kuwaitis?
A: Something like that. A training institute that has a gallery — that has everything, anything to do with art. Basically it’s like Art Kuwait that supports art in Kuwait. There’s a gallery that supports major Kuwaiti artists. Having a spot like that, supporting Kuwaiti artists on a very high level.

Q: What’s the extent of the influence of social media in the arts scene?
A: Social media is an ideal tool and a great way to reach a lot of people that you can’t normally reach. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of social media for maximum exposure to bring your art closer to the people.

Q: Are you planning any exhibit soon?
A: It’s a very costly thing. I have done solo exhibits in Tilal and Movenpick Bidaa before. But for now, I’m extremely busy and it’s not easy to have two jobs. If I want to mount an exhibit, everything has to be perfect. Everything matters. All the seven senses from the smell, music and lighting, all should be done rightly. For now, I’m busy with the interior designers, online support and social medial support. I’m good on how it’s going

Q: How do you see the art scene in Kuwait in five to 10 years?
A: You know in Kuwait, when they see something new, everybody starts doing it. At the end of the day, I think it’s your uniqueness is what sells you. In five years, I think it will be the same. In 10 years, we’re hoping that it will be much better if there’ll be good attention toward it and people will realise how beautiful art can be especially if it’s coming from the society itself and the people themselves.

Q: What advice can you give for artists like you?
A: For them to succeed, artists here in Kuwait should collaborate a lot with each other. We should all get together, think together, do stuff together, not seen as competitors. Maybe, we can do one huge event. It would be a great thing. We have to support each other. There are a lot of talented Kuwait artists. I have this big dream that Kuwaiti artists will be known not only in the whole Middle East but in the world. I always dream big. My ultimate goal is to have like Art Dubai, hope to see one in Kuwait one day.


Yasmeen Abdullah Al-Nafeesi, a successful career woman, leader, entrepreneur as well as an artist. Her professional career has over 10 years of work experience where she received numerous awards and certificates through her contribution to the oil, investment and banking sectors. Majority of her work scope includes international relations and coordination. Yasmeen has also managed to establish her own business in 2008, the Art Lounge to fulfill her creative and innovative personality as an artist and satisfy her passion for modern art, by informing, educating and inspiring the public as well as retailing fine art work to the Kuwaiti market. She has established one of the pioneer or the first online art gallery in Kuwait

Educational Background:
Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Business Information Technology - 2001

KOGOD School of Business:
American University, Washington DC, USA

Work Experience:
Senior Executive Officer, Foreign Obligations Dept National Offset Company (NOC), Aug 2011-Present
Founder & Managing Director, Art Lounge, June 2008-Present
Client Services Officer, HSBC Bank ME & Kuwait, Oct 2007-March 2008
Asst Vice President, Global Investment House Kuwait, Apr 2006-Jan 2007
Coordination Officer, Arab Fund for Economic & Social Development, Oct 2004-Apr 2006
Junior Administrator, Kuwait National Petroleum Company, Mar 2003-Sept 2004

National Project for Leaders of Deveopment (Thukkur Club)
Member of the Media and Communication of Thukkur Club

Conferences Attended:
Private Banking Asia 2006, Singapore, June 2006
Malaysian Islamic Finance Conference, Malaysia, August 2006
Islamic Real Estate Asia 2006, Singapore, September 2006
The Global Offset and Countertrade Association (GOCA), Arizona, USA, September 2013.

By Michelle Fe Santiago
Arab Times Staff

By: Yasmeen Abdullah Al-Nafeesi

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